Monday, January 15, 2018

I hate stage combat

Now that I’ve got your attention… sorry; I hate the words ‘stage combat’! There I said it out loud! To be clear: I don’t hate stage combat. I have just come to dislike the assembly of these two words together used in a common theatrical language to express an art form I believe is so much deeper. Why the dislike I hear you ask?

I believe there is lack of depth that the words ‘stage combat’ offers to truly grasp what is going. By ‘going on’: I mean in terms of the actor's learning and the way in which it is viewed. When conducting a stage combat class, the first thing I will ask the participants is: What are they here to learn? I do this before I use the words stage combat. This question usually elicits responses like: fake fighting and pretend punching. It’s these types of responses that undo the work that has been going on for the last 20 years to develop the art that are hard to stomach. That said – I get it. It’s not real! So, it’s fake and pretend.(watch this spot for a further blog on this)

Some of our practitioners have tried to rebrand it over the years. Staged Combat, Theatrical Fighting, Theatrical Aggression and Acted Aggression just to name a few. But for me none of them really get to the heart of what the art form truly encompasses. To the lay person these two words also negate other areas in our field like; physical comedy, domestic violence, sexual attacks and even some broader uses of what we bring to the table as practitioners in terms of movement.

All that said I don’t know what the answer is and given how much traction the words have gained over the last 50 years I guess we are destined to live with them now. But it highlights that we as practitioners have a duty of care. We have become guardians for the continued education of the broader context for these two words and the responsibility for their greater understanding.

Friday, October 6, 2017

time & space

Time and space? What is that? What do we mean by these words? Time could refer to a watch or a calendar? Space could refer to 'outer' space or the stuff between objects or people? 

In the context of remembering choreography and or movement ‘time and space’ have specific meanings for me. Let's say we are learning a sword fight that needs to appear lighting fast and with many responses that need to appear reactive.

The way in which we up load / learn this pattern of moves will be important to the way in which it will then re interpreted by an audience. When I am trying to learn any choreography, I am conscious of my use of (rehearsal) time; the time (timing of events) I am replicating; and then in turn the perception of time (pace) in which the choreography will be seen.

So, the question I often ask myself during the up-loading phase of my rehearsal is: “how do I generate time”. What is meant by this? What I am seeking to do when learning something is to maximise space around me and my partner so that I can increase the number of decisions I may have to make when at show speed. I do this for me and any scene / fight partner because when it gets to show pace that “time” will not be there – things will be moving so fast there will be no time for decisions (on one level). I want to be aware in the uploading phase of exactly everything that is going on. Position of feet, weight loading, blade angles, whether some needs to appear cognitive or not, etc.

Ways to generate time for example are by simply allowing a blade arch to move a little longer and or larger on some occasions so that the length of time it takes to get to my partners parry means I have given them more time. So, it’s my use of space that allows for this generation of time. Almost an optical illusion where my body maybe still moving at a pace but I can slow my blade arch down (should I notice my partner is not to speed) so it is moving at a different tempt to my body. Other ways to do this may include but are not limited to - I might make more of a slope on my footwork to allow my body to take a little more time to get somewhere thus generating more time again for my partner.

Anyway still formulating this musing so to be continued…

Friday, September 22, 2017

contrast and contradiction.

It is worth remembering that everything we do in our profession as story tellers is a contrast and or contradiction. What we are doing is not real. It is not actually a real event we are only dramatising life… a reality, yet what we are doing is a really happening. The whole process of making art is or rather could be debated as being unreal and yet real – hence my proposition it is a contrast and or contradiction. My reason for brining this up is because as an artist within this world of ‘make believe’ we are always in pursuit of trying to make sense within this contrast and contradiction. I need this unreal world to feel real to me.
My instinct is that this unreal reality must be; on some level, a neurological related experience; to feel deeply connected to my body and mind physiologically for it to make sense in order for me to have logical reactions and responses. I need to give over to the illusion of the imagined world I am generating. To achieve this successfully I need this world to be fully realised.

The other form of contrast and contradiction that exists for us as actors to grapple with is in human behaviour – we are all in some form or another contradictory in our behaviour – saying one thing but doing another. Maybe my point is being ok with this contrast and contradiction is a good thing. Being self-aware of it helps us with us in our profession. Especially when I hear actors say: my character wouldn’t do that!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

art of listening...

To truly listen one must be in a true state of emptiness to be filled with the information be presented. Regardless of whether this information is visual, physical or aural. When listening we are not just absorbing words or intent but meaning, framework and context from which the intended information is coming from. To achieve this, we must act from a place of empathy and harmony with others. To place ourselves in a headspace that allows us to be present for the person or persons providing the information we are to take on board. By listening affectively, and placing ourselves in the situation of others we stand a stronger chance of navigating a way forward when placed in a situation of change , agitation, discomfort or conflict.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

problem solving & multi-tasking

I remember dropping a glass on stage during a production. I remember feeling the condensation on the outside of the glass slowly undermine my grip of the glass. As it was slipping from my finger; externally I was presence delivering lines and listening for ques, internally however I was developing a process to navigate the glass which was about to break at my feet and the feet of fellow cast members. I was contemplating a strategy for how to clean up the glass which included going off stage and getting a dust pan between my lines. I was even deciding on how to incorporate the obviously broken glass on the floor into the scene should I have to or need to. These thoughts were ordered and calm.
I am not suggesting that time slowed down in fact some research I discovered theorised that it is only our memory of an event that tricks us into thinking that time slowed down. The reference to time slowing down is usually when people in a state of danger. While on stage performing a task, I am not in danger, although a stage fight could replicate a sense of danger, thus tricking the brain. What I am inferring here is that I was making some informed decisions under pressure. I had enough experiential training through years of being on stage to be calm under pressure and respond accordingly.
I relish developing training methodologies that allow for a system that builds a mind and body approach and response to problem solving and multi-tasking should an accident arise. Like any form of conditioning training it would behove an actor to maintain a mindset that advocates for the understanding that an accident will eventually happen. That way when it does they are not thrown. This mental preparation in the training process is paramount in the development of a healthy approach to a physical disciplined response. The key to making this an affective system lies in the development of sensitivity and listening skills on a macro and micro level. On a level that involves a mental, aural, visual and tactile sensitivity to one’s immediate surroundings.
The main principle of my approach is prioritising how to deal with; and respond accordingly to an issue or accident that arises. A way into this approach is to start looking for a range of variables within a spectrum of scenarios that an actor may find themselves in. By seeking the order in this spectrum of perceived chaos, one can start to reduce stress levels because a series of responses can be programmed in the conditioning training level.

To be continued…

Monday, August 21, 2017

versatility & adaptability

The Emptiness Compass I have been referring to in some previous newsletter is comprised of 12 paired words. These paired words when used together are designed to help keep a participants and students focused on an exercise / task at hand to ensure they are remaining in process rather than a product or outcome driven mode. My musings for this week’s newsletter bring me to one set of those paired words: Versatility and Adaptability So, what do I mean by these words and what am I hoping a participant will gain by focusing on these two words?
These words have been a strong part of my life and indirectly my career. They are a reflection of my upbringing. From my first years at school I was, or rather my family was always moving from town to town. In fact, by the age of thirteen I had been to seven schools, and on one occasion I had returned to the same school on three times.
By the completion of my school years I had attended nine schools. The shortest length of time I spent at one school was six weeks. In the early years of my life my father was an advisory teacher (in the early 70’s) which meant - wherever he went... we all went! Not until the age of about 14 did my family finally stop in the one location and I was able to finish my education with some consistency.
My early years in life are ones of constant change. So in order to fit in quickly and smoothly I had to become versatile and adaptable. In recent years, I have come to realise that these early days of my development informed my approach to life and career. That is to say that I have subconsciously always sort to become adaptable and versatile at tackling my career and obstacles as they arise in my life. I believed it was important to understand these two elements of my ‘make-up’, versatility and adaptability; as it has informed my development as well as fuelled my curiosity towards every aspect of my performance career.
So how have these words informed my movement work to be more specific and why are they in my ‘emptiness compass’?
In simple terms we can strive to maintain consistency with any given choreography or movement sequence we are presented with and or have to perform in a repeated fashion. But regardless of rehearsals or the performance of any sequence the reality is that no matter how hard we try there are micro and macro differences happening and or going to happen.
Our bodies are no robots. We need to be open to the small shifts and big shifts that will inevitably happen. These shifts could be conscious, unconscious or by accident. They could be in the form of incorrect body placement, prop failure or the environment around us undermining us! These shifts could be; for example as a simply be a hand being placed palm up or palm down through to larger scale shifts happening; for example where a sword breaks. Either way if we are not adaptable or versatile in our training we will certainly not be in performance mode when things go ‘wrong’.
Maybe if we can train in a way that reflects the real world outcomes which allows for mistakes or differences to occur then maybe we are less likely to be thrown when it happens in performance. Just a thought...

Friday, August 11, 2017

empathy & harmony

The Emptiness Compass I use when navigating a participant’s journey is comprised of a series of paired words. The 12 paired words when used together are designed to help keep a participant focused on an exercise / task at hand to ensure they are remaining in process rather than product. My musings for this week’s newsletter bring me to one set of those paired words: empathy and harmony.

So, what do I mean by these words and what am I hoping a participant will gain by focusing on these two words?

Empathy. Let’s just check in with the definition as per the Oxford dictionary: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. I have always been struck by a lack of empathy sometimes displayed by actors. By that I mean their lack of awareness of what their scene partner/s may or might be going through.

So, I started to generate a more formal and overt focus on ‘the other’ in my work. Trying to get the actor to think more about what are the obstacles faced by my partner or fellow actor while navigating choreography or a movement sequence. For example, an actor could ask themselves while pushing another actor to the floor: ‘how is this fellow actor dealing with wearing high heels and a long-complicated period dress as the try to fall?’

By simply framing a question like that: ‘how is my fellow actor dealing with x?’ Hopefully a stronger sense of empathy can be practised and then by developing that empathy an actor can feed into how they can better serve a fellow actor’s physical journey. With a desired outcome that creates better cohesion and therefore better physical storytelling.

Harmony. The Oxford gives us couple of meanings which are helpful: The quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole. The state of being in agreement or concord. Like empathy my reason for investing in this word was driven by noticing a lack of harmony in a lot of work I have seen over the years. Not always but often I see actors in their own head. I may have remembered this incorrectly but I seem to remember in Uta Hagen’s book (maybe Respect for Acting forgive me my books are in storage), she made mention that a lot of young actors often when first reading a play will usually just look for their part. Rather than the whole story.

What I took away from that in my early days as an actor was the lack of seeing the whole picture.  That has continued to sit with me as I witness actors not seeing the whole sequences of some movement or choreography but rather just their own bit within it. So, by bringing about a focus on harmony I am aiming to achieve an awareness of the whole. Blending is a word used in aikido a lot. I sometimes like to use that word as well.

Well hope that has helped you gain some smaller insight to why and how those words have come to mean something to me in my journey.